When Texas Gov. Gregg Abbott decided to use the human suffering and displacement of immigrant families as a cheap electoral punching bag, Chicagoans of all stripes and colors turned up to back our words with action. People distributed food, lawyers showed up to enforce legal rights and shelters opened their doors to tired babies in need of warm beds.
Our tradition as a welcoming city for immigrants and refugees spans decades, from Black people fleeing Southern racist terrorism after reconstruction, to Eastern Europeans escaping rabid antisemitism, from Irish workers fleeing famine, to Central Americans breaking free from economic displacement and gang violence. The toxic politics of the American right will not shake our core belief that we are all better off because of immigration, and that our identity – as a city and country – is wedded to an unconditional embrace of those who come here seeking opportunity and peace. We cannot relent in this conviction when it comes to our public schools.
Immigrant children deserve and are legally entitled to an education, regardless of their language, legal status, or country of origin. This requires tireless work on behalf of teachers and community organizers to not only enroll these children into schools as soon as they arrive, but to ensure that these schools are welcoming centers, fully funded and staffed, and ready to educate and heal.
Members of the Latinx Caucus have had the privilege of working with scores of newcomer students, mostly from Central and South America. The work is challenging beyond words. A majority of our instructional resources, including CPS’ new Skyline curriculum, are available only in English, as are selective enrollment tests for high school applications.
Combined with the chronic shortage of bilingual teachers, we have our work cut out for us. Many of our newcomer students bring trauma and pain from family separations, maltreatment while in custody at the border or unimaginable violence they have witnessed. We are in dire need of more bilingual social workers as the city’s solidarity must extend to the funding and programming we provide in our schools.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot and CPS CEO Pedro Martinez must make real commitments to ensuring that our schools become the sanctuaries we profess them to be. The reactionary, anti-immigrant forces in this country wish to cast aside these humans arriving here as punishment for our municipal sanctuary city ordinance, but Chicagoans know better.
These newcomers are a blessing and an opportunity for a school district struggling with declining enrollment, which has brought disastrous school closings and budget cuts. Chicago, with its shrinking population, needs to truly welcome new immigrants in word and in deed – not only as the just, moral and humane thing to do – but because our well-being as a city and society depends on it.
We ask CPS, the mayor, school and district administrators, and teachers to make this moment count. Set it straight that Chicago is a city of immigrants, workers, teachers and students all working together for justice, peace and healing.